photos courtesy of Julie Soefer
Chris Shepherd likes a challenge. He frequently tells people that he opened Underbelly five years ago “the hardest way possible” as a whole animal restaurant working directly with farmers. So when he and his business partners, Kevin Floyd, Whitney Mercilus and Steve Flippo, were approached about the possibility of taking over the building at 1658 Westheimer for only five years, his first response was to walk away.
“But then I started thinking about all the ideas I’ve had in my head about my next concept,” said Chris. “I know it’s unconventional, but I realized this short-term lease could give me the freedom to execute all the concepts I want to do.”
And so One Fifth was born. One Fifth will be Chris’s five-year project featuring five different restaurant concepts. Each concept will be open Sept. 1 until July 31 and will close each August for renovations. The building décor will change, the menu and wine list will change, staff uniforms will change. On September 1, it will re-open as an entirely new restaurant, giving Chris and his staff the ability to exhaust their creativity in a short window of time.
The first three concepts will be One Fifth Steak, One Fifth Romance Languages and One Fifth Fish. The final two concepts will be announced at a later date. One Fifth will open in January 2017 as Chris Shepherd’s version of a steakhouse— One Fifth Steak. Chris has always struggled with the idea of a steakhouse due to his commitment to sustainability. He doesn’t want a cow to lose its life for a filet and two ribeyes.
When asked about his whole animal philosophy at Underbelly, he points to a conversation he had with a meat purveyor at a previous restaurant. “What happens to the rest of the animal if I just buy the tenderloins?” The purveyor didn’t know and didn’t particularly care, which fueled Chris’ passion to honor the life of each animal.
“Growing up, my parents bought whole sides of beef,” said Chris. “Even as a kid, I understood the importance of utilizing a whole animal. Yes, primal cuts are delicious, but all parts of the animal, if treated properly, are delicious. It’s how I cook at home, and it’s how we’re going to cook at One Fifth.”
Using the lessons Chris has learned at Underbelly, One Fifth Steak will seek to emphasize all cuts of the animal. The majority of protein served at the restaurant will be grilled or seared in a cast iron skillet for optimal flavor. The restaurant has an existing wood-fired deck oven, which will be fully utilized on the menu. Expect wood-roasted seafood, sides and desserts. Chris and his team will utilize existing relationships with farmers to create sides like embered carrots with citrus and sunflower seeds, grit spoon-bread and creamed mustard greens with Benton’s bacon. Steakhouse traditionalists needn’t fear—there will be potatoes on the menu, even though they are rarely grown in the area.
“I was trained in classic French cuisine,” said Chris, “and I use that technique every day. I can’t wait to serve classic French dishes alongside Spanish-inspired dishes like cast iron paella and coastal Italian seafood cooked in the existing wood-burning oven. Will I bring back favorite dishes from the past? It’s very likely.”
On September 1, 2018, Chris will open his third concept, One Fifth Fish. He’s spent the last five years championing Gulf Coast product, and One Fifth Seafood will be his outlet to feature fish from outside our waters. His strict local focus at Underbelly limits the kinds of product he’s been able to serve, and with this concept, the world, literally, is his oyster. He’s excited to work with caper blades from South Carolina, clams, fin-fish and shellfish from around the country.
There are constants at every One Fifth concept: a cold bar and a rolling cart featuring items appropriate for the current restaurant theme (ideas include a tartare cart, tableside Caesar salad cart, martini cart).
The Beverage Program
Wine, spirits, cocktails and beer aren’t an afterthought at One Fifth. They’re essential. The quality of the beverage program will match the quality of the food to complete the dining experience. Wine director Matthew Pridgen believes strongly in aggressively priced wine lists, as seen in his list at Underbelly. At One Fifth, he’ll feature a wide range of wines from across the globe to pair with a diverse menu spanning raw seafood to steak. While championing smaller producers, lesser known varietals and regions, the list will also offer classics well known for their quality and consistency.
Unlike sister restaurant Underbelly, the list at One Fifth will not be limited to family owned and operated wineries, although they will make up the majority of the list. One Fifth Steak will feature plenty of sparkling wine, Chenin Blanc, Grüner Veltliner and Riesling to pair with the raw bar, as well as classics to pair with meat—Pinot Noir, Grenache, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon. The Romance Languages wine list will have a heavy Old World influence with Nebbiolo, Sangiovese and Pinot Noir taking center stage. One Fifth Fish will have elements of both of the previous concepts, while turning focus to more bistro-style wines that are very reasonably priced, food friendly and highly affable like Sauvignon Blanc and Gamay.
The full bar will reflect the partners’ enthusiasm for bourbon. Kevin, who has been hyper-focused on Hay Merchant’s beer program in recent years, looks forward to reconnecting with spirits and cocktails from his days at Anvil. He’ll focus on the classics—Old Fashioneds, martinis, Manhattans, along with a few original cocktails. He will curate a small list of bottled beers for the menu as well.
“I have always found it strange to see high-end, thoughtful food served next to beer lacking the same passion and attention,” said Kevin. “I’ve learned a lot working in bars that are essentially research and development labs for quality beer and spirits, and I look forward to applying those products, methods and passion to a broader menu.”
The Design Opened in 1927 as St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, this brick structure has housed businesses including a broom factory, a tire warehouse, a string of nightclubs and an Italian restaurant. In 1997, Chef Mark Cox opened Mark’s American Cuisine, which was a Houston icon for 20 years. Significant renovations will be made to the interior, led by partner Kevin Floyd in conjunction with Collaborative Projects, known for their work at Underbelly, Hay Merchant and The Pastry War.
The existing bar, located in the center of the dining room, will become the cold bar— a fixture in all concepts at One Fifth. The full bar will run along the Eastern wall of the restaurant. The upstairs choir loft will be used for dinner service and private events.
Chris will name a chef de cuisine at both One Fifth and Underbelly and will split his time between the two restaurants. Matthew Pridgen will serve as wine director for both One Fifth and Underbelly. Victoria Dearmond will manage the pastry programs at both restaurants. Kevin Floyd will oversee restaurant operations and the annual renovations. Steve Flippo will manage all administrative duties.